If “critical listening” is the key thing I perfected during a recent stint teaching English pronunciation, then critical reading is what I’ve developed over the last half year writing my thoughts for fellow scribes.
I have also become amazed at how much is published concerning writing or writers – IN, perhaps, being the example that most brightly shines.
For the past month, the Indian English press has been agog over the publication of Vikram Seth’s newest book, a biographical reminiscence of his London-based dentist uncle and his Jewish-German wife, entitled Two Lives.
Seth has graced the front pages of all major daily papers and been given ample coverage in various periodicals. The man is a star because he’s beating the country's former rulers at their own linguistic game. He and Salmon Rushdie are India’s point men in this contest.
Arundhati Roy heads the female contingent. She has published nothing since the phenomenal splash of her first book, A God Of Small Things. Rather, she has used the proceeds to pursue the many socially relevant issues that are so dear to her heart.
The criteria I use are the extraordinary advances they have been given by their publishers, as well as their unparalleled sales worldwide and the slew of prestigious literary awards they have garnered.
Seth states that he writes between 10 and 15 hours a day, a fact I find daunting, if not horrifying. I once acted in a couple of television commercials that also featured Seth’s sister. She told me her brother perpetually pestered the family to listen to whatever he was writing. Some think Seth will eventually win the Nobel Prize. My guess is that you know if you have it. He knows he has it.
For several years my wife Vidhu and I have been part of a sweet, usually monthly, book club meet, discussion followed by dinner. At the group’s core are a gaggle of literature professors, maybe five Yanks out of 20.
Seth’s book is next on the docket, and one of the profs knows Lilia Seth, Vikram’s jurist-cum-intellectual mother, and spoke as if her attendance is imminent. Because of the professional core of the group, many local writers have joined, affording the perfect opportunity to interact with local writers.
I’ve written before about the growth in literacy fueling the local print market. Very few of first generation literates will speak anything but their local language -- of which there are, officially, 22. There exists a vibrant vernacular press of which I know knowing. This is part of the social fabric that makes South Asia, and consequently yours truly, what it is today.
Before the British left India, South Asia was similar to West Europe at the time. Here, linguistically distinct groupings eventually acquired political form of states. The Brits had tied the whole joint up with a railway run on a common currency. The 500 odd [and some were truly odd] princely states were melded into this mix.
From the very beginning of the modern state of India, English was the main link language for both the public and private sector. If you wanted to be successful, a working knowledge of English has been essential. Underlying all is an English vernacular press that can’t be beat. I found it humbling to think that the my essays of gracing the Times of India’s editorial pages have been printed more than a million times and have part of the days of some extremely influential people.
I would appreciate hearing specific questions any of you may have about India [email@example.com]. Shri Ganga Din did indeed reply but his work precluded the suggested lunch. I parried with a counter offer of dinner, tea, drinks, whatever, wherever, whenever.
I have yet to hear.
Buzz Burza is a freelance writer, photographer, teacher, lecturer, film actor and print distribution consultant living in New Delhi, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org